Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Quoted in the paper

I'll write more about the State of the Union address later. For now, I'm posting the link to the PI article generated after my participation on a feedback panel.


Monday, January 28, 2008

An offer I can't refuse.

Last week I got an email from a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer inviting me to participate on a panel of diverse persons who will watch the State of the Union address and then be interviewed by reporters about our reactions to the President’s speech. Good golly – an almost-too-good-to-be-true opportunity to be able to express my opinion about the state of our nation. I’m in.

Briefly, the state of our nation is….sorry.

  • In the past six years, our country has engaged in two wars. In starting the second one, the president introduced a new, untested and unapproved doctrine of preemptive war, for which I hope he someday does prison time.
  • According to advance copies of the speech, the president is going to attack congressional pork projects. It is too bad his criticism does not extend to overseas defense contracts. Are the President’s sensibilities offended by the fact that these congressional projects are domestic, or that his friends aren’t getting a cut?
  • We need alternative fuels badly, but Congress has allowed the powerful corn lobby to persuade them to invest in corn ethanol. Corn ethanol take almost as much energy to produce as it provides, negating any benefit. This is in contrast to beet or sugar ethanol, which is very efficient to produce. As a result, corn prices (and everything else produced from with corn from tortillas to beef) have risen dramatically.
  • The bottom line is that it has gotten harder and harder for poor and middle-class Americans to live and work in a way that fosters a healthy society. Somehow, when a person is struggling to keep his head above water, he is not thinking about what it would take to walk out of the lake. I think that many Americans are tired of gasping for air. We need real economic relief.

I could just go on and on without end.

Tonight, my biggest challenge is going to be refraining from screaming uncontrollably at the television screen as I would normally do in the privacy of my own home.

Reason to hope.

Last week I was feeling rather despondent about obtaining my law degree and wondering if the price I have paid to obtain it will be worth it in the end.

Realistically, I do not think I would have remained a paralegal for the next twenty-five years. I am sure that I would have gone to law school at some point. I just do not know that I would have gone back when I did, while Marlo was still a teenager and living at home, which has made the whole trek a lot more difficult.

The good news is that I recently came across an ABA Journal article, which reports that a commonality amongst lawyers who love their work is that these lawyers wanted to work in the law from a young age.

When I was seven years old, I was in the gifted program at my elementary school and interviewed a local attorney as a project. I do not remember anything about the interview other than getting dressed up and getting to use a cassette recorder (a big deal in those days). However, I do know that from that moment on, I wanted to be an attorney.

At least now, I can say, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with this law degree, but I am going to be happy doing it.”

Criminals aren’t the only stupid ones.

In order to enter law school, one is required to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). One of the test’s purposes is to test an applicant’s logical reasoning skills. Why? Because logical reasoning is supposedly an essential skill of attorneys. Unfortunately, like all tests, people slip through the cracks.

The ABA Journal recently reported that a North Carolina judge fined attorney Todd Paris $300, along with a 5-day suspended jail sentence, for reading Maxim in court. The attorney “protested that the men's magazine is not pornography and that it was his girlfriend who subscribed to it.” Not surprisingly, the judge did not buy the bridge Paris was selling.

Originally, I was going to use this article to expound upon my opinion that most young American people (not just four year olds) could not pass the Stanford marshmallow experiment (click link for explanation of the experiment). However, further research revealed that this attorney is not young (and therefore not naturally impulsive as a function of his development), but rather that he is the father of a 23-year-old son. So much for finding a logical explanation for his boorish behavior.

By the time one reaches the age of this attorney, one would think he would have learned this valuable lesson: If caught doing something stupid, instead of coming up with a lame excuse, just say, “I’m sorry, judge. I’m an idiot.” At least that would preserve the possibility of regaining some of the respect lost by the original error.

Do you see an escape route here?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about a Seattle man caught groping a woman on an airplane, causing the flight to be diverted to Pittsburgh. (See “Free Advice to Stupid Criminals.”) Recently, the Seattle Times reported that a 40-year-old sailor was caught groping a 13-year-old on a flight from Honolulu to Phoenix.

Then, as now, I am amazed that the perpetrators did not consider that the chances of escape are almost non-existent. After all, they are hurling through the sky in an aluminum tube at a high rate of speed. I understand that many crimes are just plain stupid to begin with, but it seems that the possibility of getting away with the crime would be at the forefront of a criminal’s considerations. [fn. 1]

Apparently not.

1. The article also reported that the sailor, “initially denied physical contact, but later said he fondled himself while sitting next to the girl.” To all criminals who think that this explanation makes the sailor’s situation better, please, when caught by the police, shut up and call an attorney.

Oh (say can you see) Canada!

This weekend, I attended a cheer competition to watch Marlo's squad participate. Before the event began, two high school students sung both the Canadian and the American national anthems. Hearing the two songs sung back-to-back, I make the following observations:

First, I begin with one of the small consolations I have as a parent these days: telling an amusing story that will embarrass my child. When Marlo was ten years old, her school was having try-outs for a school musical centered on the colonies and the revolutionary war. Marlo’s audition piece was “Oh Canada,” which she had learned from going to the sprint car races at Skagit Speedway. I think in her mind there was no distinction between the two nations, just one great big world filled with people.

Now that I have satisfied that need, I will move on to my observations from the cheer competition. Both girls did a fantastic job singing. However, the U.S. national anthem was accompanied by various whoops and hollers from the crowd whenever the girl hit the high notes or embellished the tune with various pop-style warbles. Overall, I was struck by how sing-able the Canadian national anthem is and how one is focused on the words of the song. When listening to our own national anthem, I believe the crowd focused more on whether the girl could successfully sing it than the meaning of the song.

Aside from the obvious downside to having a national anthem where people cheer more for the singer than the song at the end, I doubt you could find ten random Americans who even know what a rampart is. In addition, in my opinion, catcalls, whoops and whistles have no business accompanying the national anthem. If Congress in 1931 could have foreseen this future, they might have re-thought their resolution to adopt the “Star Spangled Banner” as our anthem.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Study: False statements preceded war


Last updated January 23, 2008 3:43 a.m. PT

Study: False statements preceded war


President Bush addresses the media in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2008. President Bush announced the formation of an Advisory Council on Financial Literacy. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)

WASHINGTON -- A study by two nonprofit journalism organizations found that President Bush and top administration officials issued hundreds of false statements about the national security threat from Iraq in the two years following the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The study concluded that the statements "were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses."

The study was posted Tuesday on the Web site of the Center for Public Integrity, which worked with the Fund for Independence in Journalism.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel did not comment on the merits of the study Tuesday night but reiterated the administration's position that the world community viewed Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, as a threat.

"The actions taken in 2003 were based on the collective judgment of intelligence agencies around the world," Stanzel said.

The study counted 935 false statements in the two-year period. It found that in speeches, briefings, interviews and other venues, Bush and administration officials stated unequivocally on at least 532 occasions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to produce or obtain them or had links to al-Qaida or both.

"It is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to al-Qaida," according to Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith of the Fund for Independence in Journalism staff members, writing an overview of the study. "In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003."

Named in the study along with Bush were top officials of the administration during the period studied: Vice President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan.

Bush led with 259 false statements, 231 about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 28 about Iraq's links to al-Qaida, the study found. That was second only to Powell's 244 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 10 about Iraq and al-Qaida.

The center said the study was based on a database created with public statements over the two years beginning on Sept. 11, 2001, and information from more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches and interviews.

"The cumulative effect of these false statements - amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts - was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war," the study concluded.

"Some journalists - indeed, even some entire news organizations - have since acknowledged that their coverage during those prewar months was far too deferential and uncritical. These mea culpas notwithstanding, much of the wall-to-wall media coverage provided additional, 'independent' validation of the Bush administration's false statements about Iraq," it said.


On the Net:

Center For Public Integrity: http://www.publicintegrity.org/default.aspx

Fund For Independence in Journalism: http://www.tfij.org/

Rantings of a 39-year-old, 2L, single mother of a teenager.

This weekend I had one of those arguments one has with teenagers. The kind where at the end, you have no idea why you were arguing. The kind that leaves you pondering at what age logical reasoning develops in human beings. These arguments are routine enough that they probably should not warrant a journal entry. However, during this argument, my daughter managed to find the proper button to push to upset me.

She called me “selfish.”

Why? Because, among other things, what I am going to be doing at any particular moment in time depends on the amount of schoolwork I have to do or if it is finals week. Having my daughter call me “selfish” really got me thinking about the amount of things I have given up or sacrificed in order to get my law degree and wondering if it really will be worth it in the end.

Before law school, I knew myself as competent adult. I had a successful career and was at the top of my field. My pay was not enough to be called “good money” as a single income earner, but was at the high end of the pay scale for the work I did. People relied on me. Now, I worry about turning in anything before at least two friends of mine read it, lest I have a typographical error that will reveal the depths of my stupidity.

In addition to my job, before law school, I owned two properties: a condominium in Kirkland and a duplex in Des Moines. Now, I sleep on a hide-a-bed sofa in the “living room” of a one-bedroom mother-in-law apartment that I share with my teenager. Every night, I unfold my bed and every morning, I fold it back up. Sleep is uncomfortable at best. Privacy is non-existent.

On the other hand, lack of a comfortable bed is probably a good thing because it makes it easier to climb out of bed at 6:30 a.m. to drive Marlo to cheer practice on Saturday mornings or at 8:00 a.m. on Sundays to drive her to her job. This, of course, would be the situation with or without law school. However, it does make me wonder how she has the gall to call me “selfish.”

Of course, in Marlo’s view, if I would let her get her drivers’ license, she could drive herself to cheer and work. However, her getting her license is just about the last bargaining tool I have as a parent. You see, Marlo consistently gets A’s and B+’s in all but one class, which she will be failing. This is because she has figured out that it is the one thing simultaneously makes me crazy and will get my attention away from my own studies.

I came to law school, in all honesty, for three reasons: to be able to do human rights work; to be able to live a comfortable life without scraping by; and to be able to pay for Marlo’s college education.

At this point, with Marlo’s grade point average hovering around a 3.0, with my profits from the sale of my properties long spent to subsidize living on a single-student financial aid budget with a teenager, and the possibility of doing human rights work supplanted by $130,000 in debt, I wonder if it will be worth it in the end.

The one thing I thought I’d at least have out of this experience was a daughter who was proud of me. And I do not even have that.

Seeing obstacles everywhere.

The mantra about law schools, used to justify the pedagogy of the educational system, is that they are “teaching us to think like lawyers.” Now, I came to law school with a certain propensity to see possible accidents or torts, because I worked as a paralegal for over 13 years in personal injury litigation. Whenever I would caution Marlo to be careful of some hidden danger, she would excuse me to her friends by saying (with an accompanying roll of her eyes), “She can’t help it. She’s a paralegal.” One unfortunate aspect of my law school education is that this propensity to see possible accidents has expanded to include legal obstacles of any sort.

The other day in the Seattle Times, there was an article about proposed legislation that would require school districts to favor local farmers for the purchase of produce for school lunches. I think that we would all agree, given the obesity crisis in the United States, that anything that enables schools to provide more healthy, nutritious and tasty meals to children is a good thing.

However, instead of being thrilled that this legislation is even being proposed – for the good of nutrition, for the environment, for local farmers, and any other liberal cause I could think of – my law-school-tainted-cynical mind sees this progressive idea and thinks, “There is no way this doesn’t interfere with interstate commerce or violate the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Constitution.” If you don’t know what I’m speaking of, don’t worry about it. Just count yourself lucky that you haven’t paid $120,000 for an education that makes you spend your waking hours figuring out why things won’t work.

Chaos, neatly packaged in a box.

The other day I was listening to the radio on my way to school when an advertisement aired selling home paternity tests. Never mind that I am not in the market for paternity testing, I was fascinated. I wonder, does anyone really know the chaos this will cause if it catches on?

In the United States, there is a presumption of paternity for children born within a marriage. As my daughter said after I explained this to her, “You mean, I can have an affair with the postman, but any baby would legally be considered my husband’s.” Precisely. The policy reason underlying the legal doctrine of presumptive paternity is that an estimated ten percent of children born within marriages are not the husband’s children. To maintain social order, courts have decided that there is a presumption of paternity so that not every bitter, divorcing man tries to deny paternity of his children.

In my opinion, easy, home-based paternity testing (just rub the swab on the inner cheek and three days later you will have your results!), has the potential to cause social havoc. Courts may hold a man legally to be a child’s father, with support obligations, etc., if the man has reared the child as his own for a long period. However, a court order cannot prevent a man from pulling away emotionally from the child. In addition, if a child suddenly finds out that the father he believed to be his own, is not, this will likely result in psychological damage as well.

So, there you have it. The potential for chaos, neatly packaged in a box.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Like watching a train wreck.

I'm sitting here reading the news on my laptop. I've got the Food Network playing on TV in the background. What's playing? Anthony Bourdain's "A Cook's Tour." It is a fascinating show where he travels the world and tries new and exotic foods. Today's episode, he's in Vietnam.

I watch the beginning of the show with some interest. He goes to the open air market and starts with Pho. This particular episode is old, so at the time it was filmed, Pho was unusual - and might still be in other parts of the country. For Seattlelites, Pho is everyday lunch fare.

The show went downhill from there. At the market he tried fetal duck egg, featuring a fertilized duck egg, halfway through gestation, soft-boiled. A disgusting mess of feathers, a beak, etc, all with egg-white type material surrounding it. Ewww.

The final dishes in the show were beating Cobra heart, cut out of a life Cobra. This was followed by other dishes made from the Cobra such as Cobra blood cocktail, etc. One might wonder why anyone would try these dishes. Apparently, they are famous for enhancing male stamina and virility.

The last dish was some sort of worm that looked like the big fat grubs that crawled out Edgar in the movie "Men in Black." Again - EEWWW!

Normally I get hungry when I watch the Food Network. That just isn't happening tonight. Likewise, I normally love to try new foods from different countries and cultures. I have to admit after watching this show, I am not as adventurous as I formerly believed myself to be.

Wrong on so many different levels

Sorry, I wasn't actually referring to myself. Rather, the title refers to this newspaper article that just came out in the PI.

It is stories like this that make me either (1) realize that I'm really not as bad of a mother as I am sometimes made to feel (considering my daughter has never been in trouble with the law); or (2) get really resigned that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket.


Last updated January 15, 2008 11:54 a.m. PT

Girl Scout robbed selling cookies


SAVANNAH, Ga. -- A Girl Scout who was robbed while selling cookies led police straight to a 12-year-old suspect - who wrote her name and address on a cookie order form before the theft.

The Girl Scout, 10-year-old Nicole Grant, told police she was selling cookies with a friend Sunday when a girl ordered cookies from her, then snatched Nicole's zip-top bag, containing $28 in cookie money, and fled on a bicycle.

"She's still a little shook up, but she's fine," said Chris Grant, the Girl Scout's father.

Savannah-Chatham County police said they tracked down the suspect using the order form the girl had filled out. The Girl Scout later identified her as the thief.

According to a police report, the young suspect denied stealing the money when questioned by police. However, she was arrested and she faces a juvenile charge of robbery, Savannah Police Department spokesman Sgt. Mike Wilson said Tuesday.

The girl's mother declined to comment when reached by phone Tuesday.

Susan Reefer, director of fund development for the local Girl Scout Council, said it's the first time a Girl Scout has been robbed while selling cookies in Savannah - where Juliette Gordon Low founded the organization in 1912.

According to Girl Scout policy, Nicole should have had a parent or other adult with her. Grant said he didn't know his daughter had left home to make sales, which she had been told not to do without supervision.

"But you learn from your mistakes," Grant said. "And she understands that now."

Sunday, January 13, 2008

One Price of War (long read, but worth it.)

The New York Times

January 13, 2008
War Torn

Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles

Late one night in the summer of 2005, Matthew Sepi, a 20-year-old Iraq combat veteran, headed out to a 7-Eleven in the seedy Las Vegas neighborhood where he had settled after leaving the Army.

This particular 7-Eleven sits in the shadow of the Stratosphere casino-hotel in a section of town called the Naked City. By day, the area, littered with malt liquor cans, looks depressed but not menacing. By night, it becomes, in the words of a local homicide detective, “like Falluja.”

Mr. Sepi did not like to venture outside too late. But, plagued by nightmares about an Iraqi civilian killed by his unit, he often needed alcohol to fall asleep. And so it was that night, when, seized by a gut feeling of lurking danger, he slid a trench coat over his slight frame — and tucked an assault rifle inside it.

“Matthew knew he shouldn’t be taking his AK-47 to the 7-Eleven,” Detective Laura Andersen said, “but he was scared to death in that neighborhood, he was military trained and, in his mind, he needed the weapon to protect himself.”

Head bowed, Mr. Sepi scurried down an alley, ignoring shouts about trespassing on gang turf. A battle-weary grenadier who was still legally under-age, he paid a stranger to buy him two tall cans of beer, his self-prescribed treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

As Mr. Sepi started home, two gang members, both large and both armed, stepped out of the darkness. Mr. Sepi said in an interview that he spied the butt of a gun, heard a boom, saw a flash and “just snapped.”

In the end, one gang member lay dead, bleeding onto the pavement. The other was wounded. And Mr. Sepi fled, “breaking contact” with the enemy, as he later described it. With his rifle raised, he crept home, loaded 180 rounds of ammunition into his car and drove until police lights flashed behind him.

“Who did I take fire from?” he asked urgently. Wearing his Army camouflage pants, the diminutive young man said he had been ambushed and then instinctively “engaged the targets.” He shook. He also cried.

“I felt very bad for him,” Detective Andersen said.

Nonetheless, Mr. Sepi was booked, and a local newspaper soon reported: “Iraq veteran arrested in killing.”

Town by town across the country, headlines have been telling similar stories. Lakewood, Wash.: “Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife.” Pierre, S.D.: “Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress.” Colorado Springs: “Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.”

Individually, these are stories of local crimes, gut-wrenching postscripts to the war for the military men, their victims and their communities. Taken together, they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak.

The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment — along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems — appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.

Three-quarters of these veterans were still in the military at the time of the killing. More than half the killings involved guns, and the rest were stabbings, beatings, strangulations and bathtub drownings. Twenty-five offenders faced murder, manslaughter or homicide charges for fatal car crashes resulting from drunken, reckless or suicidal driving.

About a third of the victims were spouses, girlfriends, children or other relatives, among them 2-year-old Krisiauna Calaira Lewis, whose 20-year-old father slammed her against a wall when he was recuperating in Texas from a bombing near Falluja that blew off his foot and shook up his brain.

A quarter of the victims were fellow service members, including Specialist Richard Davis of the Army, who was stabbed repeatedly and then set ablaze, his body hidden in the woods by fellow soldiers a day after they all returned from Iraq.

And the rest were acquaintances or strangers, among them Noah P. Gamez, 21, who was breaking into a car at a Tucson motel when an Iraq combat veteran, also 21, caught him, shot him dead and then killed himself outside San Diego with one of several guns found in his car.

Tracking the Killings

The Pentagon does not keep track of such killings, most of which are prosecuted not by the military justice system but by civilian courts in state after state. Neither does the Justice Department.

To compile and analyze its list, The Times conducted a search of local news reports, examined police, court and military records and interviewed the defendants, their lawyers and families, the victims’ families and military and law enforcement officials.

This reporting most likely uncovered only the minimum number of such cases, given that not all killings, especially in big cities and on military bases, are reported publicly or in detail. Also, it was often not possible to determine the deployment history of other service members arrested on homicide charges.

The Times used the same methods to research homicides involving all active-duty military personnel and new veterans for the six years before and after the present wartime period began with the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

This showed an 89 percent increase during the present wartime period, to 349 cases from 184, about three-quarters of which involved Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The increase occurred even though there have been fewer troops stationed in the United States in the last six years and the American homicide rate has been, on average, lower.

The Pentagon was given The Times’s roster of homicides. It declined to comment because, a spokesman, Lt. Col. Les Melnyk, said, the Department of Defense could not duplicate the newspaper’s research. Further, Colonel Melnyk questioned the validity of comparing prewar and wartime numbers based on news media reports, saying that the current increase might be explained by “an increase in awareness of military service by reporters since 9/11.” He also questioned the value of “lumping together different crimes such as involuntary manslaughter with first-degree homicide.”

Given that many veterans rebound successfully from their war experiences and some flourish as a result of them, veterans groups have long deplored the attention paid to the minority of soldiers who fail to readjust to civilian life.

After World War I, the American Legion passed a resolution asking the press “to subordinate whatever slight news value there may be in playing up the ex-service member angle in stories of crime or offense against the peace.” An article in the Veterans of Foreign Wars magazine in 2006 referred with disdain to the pervasive “wacko-vet myth,” which, veterans say, makes it difficult for them to find jobs.

Clearly, committing homicide is an extreme manifestation of dysfunction for returning veterans, many of whom struggle in quieter ways, with crumbling marriages, mounting debt, deepening alcohol dependence or more-minor tangles with the law.

But these killings provide a kind of echo sounding for the profound depths to which some veterans have fallen, whether at the bottom of a downward spiral or in a sudden burst of violence.

Thirteen of these veterans took their own lives after the killings, and two more were fatally shot by the police. Several more attempted suicide or expressed a death wish, like Joshua Pol, a former soldier convicted of vehicular homicide, who told a judge in Montana in 2006, “To be honest with you, I really wish I had died in Iraq.”

In some of the cases involving veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, the fact that the suspect went to war bears no apparent relationship to the crime committed or to the prosecution and punishment. But in many of the cases, the deployment of the service member invariably becomes a factor of some sort as the legal system, families and communities grapple to make sense of the crimes.

This is especially stark where a previously upstanding young man — there is one woman among the 121 — appears to have committed a random act of violence. And The Times’s analysis showed that the overwhelming majority of these young men, unlike most civilian homicide offenders, had no criminal history.

“When they’ve been in combat, you have to suspect immediately that combat has had some effect, especially with people who haven’t shown these tendencies in the past,” said Robert Jay Lifton, a lecturer in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance who used to run “rap groups” for Vietnam veterans and fought to earn recognition for what became known as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

“Everything is multicausational, of course,” Dr. Lifton continued. “But combat, especially in a counterinsurgency war, is such a powerful experience that to discount it would be artificial.”

Few of these 121 war veterans received more than a cursory mental health screening at the end of their deployments, according to interviews with the veterans, lawyers, relatives and prosecutors. Many displayed symptoms of combat trauma after their return, those interviews show, but they were not evaluated for or received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder until after they were arrested for homicides.

What is clear is that experiences on the streets of Baghdad and Falluja shadowed these men back to places like Longview, Tex., and Edwardsville, Ill.

“He came back different” is the shared refrain of the defendants’ family members, who mention irritability, detachment, volatility, sleeplessness, excessive drinking or drug use, and keeping a gun at hand.

“You are unleashing certain things in a human being we don’t allow in civic society, and getting it all back in the box can be difficult for some people,” said William C. Gentry, an Army reservist and Iraq veteran who works as a prosecutor in San Diego County.

When Archie O’Neil, a gunnery sergeant in the Marines, returned from a job handling dead bodies in Iraq, he became increasingly paranoid, jumpy and fearful — moving into his garage, eating M.R.E.’s, wearing his camouflage uniform, drinking heavily and carrying a gun at all times, even to answer the doorbell.

“It was like I put one person on a ship and sent him over there, and they sent me a totally different person back,” Monique O’Neil, his wife, testified.

A well-respected and decorated noncommissioned officer who did not want to endanger his chances for advancement, Sergeant O’Neil did not seek help for the PTSD that would later be diagnosed by government psychologists. “The Marine way,” his lawyer said at a preliminary hearing, “was to suck it up.”

On the eve of his second deployment to Iraq in 2004, Sergeant O’Neil fatally shot his mistress, Kimberly O’Neal, after she threatened to kill his family while he was gone.

During a military trial at Camp Pendleton, Calif., a Marine defense lawyer argued that “the ravages of war” provided the “trigger” for the killing. In 2005, a military jury convicted Sergeant O’Neil of murder but declined to impose the minimum sentence, life with the possibility of parole, considering it too harsh. A second jury, however, convened only for sentencing, voted the maximum penalty, life without parole. The case is on appeal.

As with Sergeant O’Neil, a connection between a veteran’s combat service and his crime is sometimes declared overtly. Other times, though, the Iraq connection is a lingering question mark as offenders’ relatives struggle to understand how a strait-laced teenager or family man or wounded veteran ended up behind bars — or dead.

That happened in the case of Stephen Sherwood, who enlisted in the Army at 34 to obtain medical insurance when his wife got pregnant. He may never have been screened for combat trauma.

Yet Mr. Sherwood shot his wife and then himself nine days after returning from Iraq in the summer of 2005. Several months before, the other soldiers in his tank unit had been killed by a rocket attack while he was on a two-week leave to celebrate the first birthday of his now-orphaned son.

“When he got back to Iraq, everyone was dead,” his father, Robert Sherwood, said. “He had survivor’s guilt.” Then his wife informed him that she wanted to end their marriage.

After the murder-suicide, Mr. Sherwood’s parents could not help but wonder what role Iraq played and whether counseling might have helped keep their son away from the brink.

“Ah boy, the amount of heartbreak involved in all of this,” said Dr. Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Boston and the author of two books that examine combat trauma through the lens of classical texts.

An Ancient Connection

The troubles and exploits of the returning war veteran represent a searing slice of reality. They have served as a recurring artistic theme throughout history — from Homer’s “Odyssey” to the World War I novel “All Quiet on the Western Front,” from the post-Vietnam-era movie “The Deer Hunter” to last fall’s film “In the Valley of Elah.”

At the heart of these tales lie warriors plagued by the kind of psychic wounds that have always afflicted some fraction of combat veterans. In an online course for health professionals, Capt. William P. Nash, the combat/operational stress control coordinator for the Marines, reaches back to Sophocles’ account of Ajax, who slipped into a depression after the Trojan War, slaughtered a flock of sheep in a crazed state and then fell on his own sword.

The nature of the counterinsurgency war in Iraq, where there is no traditional front line, has amplified the stresses of combat, and multiple tours of duty — a third of the troops involved in Iraq and Afghanistan have deployed more than once — ratchet up those stresses.

In earlier eras, various labels attached to the psychological injuries of war: soldier’s heart, shell shock, Vietnam disorder. Today the focus is on PTSD, but military health care officials are seeing a spectrum of psychological issues, with an estimated half of the returning National Guard members, 38 percent of soldiers and 31 percent of marines reporting mental health problems, according to a Pentagon task force.

Decades of studies on the problems of Vietnam veterans have established links between combat trauma and higher rates of unemployment, homelessness, gun ownership, child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse — and criminality. On a less scientific level, such links have long been known.

“The connection between war and crime is unfortunately very ancient,” said Dr. Shay, the V.A. psychiatrist and author. “The first thing that Odysseus did after he left Troy was to launch a pirate raid on Ismarus. Ending up in trouble with the law has always been a final common pathway for some portion of psychologically injured veterans.”

The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, considered the most thorough analysis of this population, found that 15 percent of the male veterans still suffered from full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder more than a decade after the war ended. Half of the veterans with active PTSD had been arrested or in jail at least once, and 34.2 percent more than once. Some 11.5 percent of them had been convicted of felonies, and veterans are more likely to have committed violent crimes than nonveterans, according to government studies. In the mid-1980s, with so many Vietnam veterans behind bars that Vietnam Veterans of America created chapters in prisons, veterans made up a fifth of the nation’s inmate population.

As Iraq and Afghanistan veterans get enmeshed in the criminal justice system, former advocates for Vietnam veterans are disheartened by what they see as history repeating itself.

“These guys today, I recognize the hole in their souls,” said Hector Villarreal, a criminal defense lawyer in Mission, Tex., who briefly represented a three-time Iraq combat veteran charged with manslaughter.

Brockton D. Hunter, a criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis, told colleagues in a recent lecture at the Minnesota State Bar Association that society should try harder to prevent veterans from self-destructing.

“To truly support our troops, we need to apply our lessons from history and newfound knowledge about PTSD to help the most troubled of our returning veterans,” Mr. Hunter said. “To deny the frequent connection between combat trauma and subsequent criminal behavior is to deny one of the direct societal costs of war and to discard another generation of troubled heroes.”

‘The Town Was Torn Up’

At the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution in Nebraska, Seth Strasburg, 29, displays an imposing, biker-style presence. He has a shaved head, bushy chin beard and tattoos scrolled around his thick arms and neck, one of which quotes, in Latin, a Crusades-era dictum: “Kill them all. God will know his own.”

Beneath this fierce exterior, however, Mr. Strasburg, an Iraq combat veteran who pleaded no contest to manslaughter and gun charges in 2006, hides a tortured compulsion to understand his actions. Growing up in rural Nebraska, he read military history. Now he devours books like Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society” and Dr. Shay’s “Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming.”

Because Mr. Strasburg is introspective, he provides a window into the reverberations of combat violence within one veteran’s psyche and from there outward. In Arnold, Neb., population 679, the unintentional killing last year by Mr. Strasburg of Thomas Tiffany Varney V, a pre-mortuary science major known as Moose, was a deeply unsettling event.

“To lose one young man permanently and another to prison, with Iraq mixed up in the middle of it — the town was torn up,” said Pamela Eggleston, a waitress at Suzy’s Pizza and Spirits.

In late 2005, Mr. Strasburg returned to Arnold for a holiday leave after two years in Iraq. Once home, he did not easily shed the extreme vigilance that had become second nature. He traveled around rural Nebraska with a gun and body armor in his Jeep, feeling irritable, out of sorts and out of place in tranquil, “American Idol”-obsessed America.

During his leave, he shrank from questions about Iraq because he hated the cavalier ones: “So, did you kill anybody? What was it like?”

He had, in fact, killed somebody in Iraq and was having trouble dealing with it. Like several veterans interviewed, Mr. Strasburg was plagued by one death before he caused another one.

In 2004, Sergeant Strasburg’s section was engaged in a mission to counter a proliferation of improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, on the road west of Mosul. One night, posted in an old junked bus, he watched the road for hours until an Iraqi man, armed and out after curfew, appeared and circled a field, kicking the dirt as if he were searching for something. Finally, the man bent down, straining to pick up a large white flour sack, which he then dragged toward the road.

“In my mind at the time, he had this I.E.D. hidden out there during the day and he was going to set it in place,” Mr. Strasburg said. “We radioed it in. They said, ‘Whatever, use your discretion.’ So I popped him.”

With others on his reconnaissance team, Mr. Strasburg helped zip the man into a body bag, taking a few minutes to study the face that he now cannot forget. When they went to search the flour sack, they found nothing but gravel.

“I reported the kill to the battalion,” Mr. Strasburg said. “They said, you know: ‘Good shot. It’s legal. Whatever. Don’t worry about it.’ After that, it was never mentioned. But, you know, I had some issues with it later.”

Mr. Strasburg’s voice broke and he turned his head, wiping his eyes. A reporter noted that he was upset.

“I’m trying not to be,” he said, then changed his mind. “I mean, how can you not be? If you’re human. What if I had waited?”

“Maybe I was too eager,” he added. “Maybe I wanted to be the first one to get a kill, you know? Maybe, maybe, maybe. And that will never go away.”

Which bothers him, Mr. Strasburg said, telling himself: “Get over it. You shot somebody. Everybody else shot somebody, too.”

Shortly after Mr. Strasburg’s military tour of duty ended, he returned to Iraq as a private contractor because, he said, he did not know what else to do with himself after eight years in the Army. “I have no skill other than carrying a gun,” he said.

By late 2005, home on leave, he was preparing to return once more to Iraq in January.

On New Year’s Eve, Mr. Strasburg, accompanied by his brother, consumed vodka cocktails for hours at Jim’s Bar and Package in Arnold. Toward evening’s end, he engaged in an intense conversation with a Vietnam veteran, after which, he said, he inexplicably holstered his gun and headed to a party. Outside the party, he drunkenly approached a Chevrolet Suburban crowded with young people, got upset and thrust his gun inside the car.

Mr. Strasburg said he did not remember what provoked him. According to one account, a young man — not the victim — set him off by calling him a paid killer. Mr. Strasburg, according to the prosecutor, stuck his gun under the young man’s chin. There was a struggle over the gun. It went off. And Mr. Varney, a strapping 21-year-old with a passion for hunting, car racing and baseball, was struck.

Asked if he pulled the trigger, Mr. Strasburg said, “I don’t know,” adding that he took responsibility: “It was my gun and I was drunk. But what the hell was I thinking?”

The Suburban drove quickly away. Mr. Strasburg jumped into his Jeep, speeding along wintry roads until he crashed into a culvert. Feeling doomed, he said, he donned his bulletproof vest and plunged into the woods, where he fell asleep in the snow as police helicopters and state troopers closed in on him.

Mr. Strasburg had never been screened for post-traumatic stress disorder. Like many soldiers, he did not take seriously the Army’s mental health questionnaires given out at his tour’s end. “They were retarded,” he said. “All of us were like, ‘Let’s do this quickly so we can go home.’ They asked: ‘Did you see any dead bodies? Did you take part in any combat operations?’ Come on, we were in Iraq. They didn’t even ask us the really important question, if you killed someone.”

After his arrest, a psychologist hired by his family diagnosed combat trauma in Mr. Strasburg, writing in an evaluation that post-traumatic stress disorder, exacerbated by alcohol, served as a “major factor” in the shooting.

A Judge’s Harsh Words

At the sentencing hearing in Broken Bow, Neb., in September 2006, however, the judge discounted the centrality of the PTSD. He called Mr. Varney “the epitome of an innocent victim” and Mr. Strasburg “a bully” who “misconstrued comments” and “reacted in a belligerent and hostile manner.” In a courtroom filled with Arnold townspeople and Iraq veterans, he sentenced Mr. Strasburg to 22 to 36 years in prison.

Mr. Strasburg’s mother, Aneita, believing that the shooting was a product of his combat trauma, started an organization to create awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder.

Her activism, however, deeply offended the victim’s parents, who run the Arnold Funeral Home.

“I’m sorry, but it feels like a personal affront, like she’s trying to excuse our son’s death with the war,” Barb Varney said, adding that Mr. Strasburg has “never shown any remorse.”

Thomas Tiffany Varney IV, the victim’s father, expressed skepticism about Mr. Strasburg’s PTSD and the disorder in general, saying, “His grandfather, my dad, a lot of people been there, done that, and it didn’t affect them,” Mr. Varney said. “They’re trying to brush it away, ‘Well, he murdered someone, it’s just post-traumatic stress.’ ”

Mr. Strasburg himself, whose diagnosis was confirmed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, expressed discomfort with his post-traumatic stress disorder and its connection to his crime. “It’s not a be-all-and-end-all excuse, and I don’t mean it to be,” he said.

As Mr. Strasburg prefers to see it, he had adapted his behavior to survive in Iraq and then retained that behavior — vigilant, distrustful, armed — when he returned home. “You need time to decompress,” he said. “If the exact same circumstances had happened a year later” — the circumstances of that New Year’s Eve — “nothing would have happened. It never would have went down.”

Mr. Strasburg also voiced reluctance to being publicly identified as a PTSD sufferer, worried that his former military colleagues would see him as a weakling. “Nobody wants to be that guy who says, ‘I got counseling this afternoon, Sergeant,’ ” he said, mimicking a whining voice.

Mr. Strasburg’s former platoon leader, Capt. Benjamin D. Tiffner, who was killed in an I.E.D. attack in Baghdad in November, wrote a letter to Nebraska state authorities. He protested the length of the sentence and requested Mr. Strasburg’s transfer “to a facility that would allow him to deal with his combat trauma.”

“Seth has been asked and required to do very violent things in defense of his country,” Captain Tiffner wrote. “He spent the majority of 2003 to 2005 in Iraq solving very dangerous problems by using violence and the threat of violence as his main tools. He was congratulated and given awards for these actions. This builds in a person the propensity to deal with life’s problems through violence and the threat of violence.

“I believe this might explain in some way why Seth reacted the way that he did that night in Nebraska,” the letter continued. “I’m not trying to explain away Seth’s actions, but I think he is a special case and he needs to be taken care of by our judicial system and our medical system.”

Many Don’t Seek Treatment

Unlike during the Vietnam War, the current military has made a concerted effort, through screenings and research, to gauge the mental health needs of returning veterans. But gauging and addressing needs are different, and a Pentagon task force last year described the military mental health system as overburdened, “woefully” understaffed, inadequately financed and undermined by the stigma attached to PTSD.

Although early treatment might help veterans retain their relationships and avoid developing related problems like depression, alcoholism and criminal behavior, many do not seek or get such help. And this group of homicide defendants seems to be a prime example.

Like Mr. Strasburg, many of these veterans learned that they had post-traumatic stress disorder only after their arrests. And their mental health issues often went unevaluated even after the killings if they were pleading not guilty, if they did not have aggressive lawyers and relatives — or if they killed themselves first.

Of the 13 combat veterans in The Times database who committed murder-suicides, only two, as best as it can be determined, had psychological problems diagnosed by the military health care system after returning from war.

“The real tragedy in these veterans’ case is that, where PTSD is a factor, it is highly treatable,” said Lawrence W. Sherman, director of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania. “And when people are exposed to serious trauma and don’t get it treated, it is a serious risk factor for violence.”

At various times, the question of whether the military shares some blame for these killings gets posed. This occurs especially where the military knew beforehand of a combat veteran’s psychological troubles, marital problems or history of substance abuse.

In some cases, the military sent service members with pre-existing problems — known histories of mental illness, drug abuse or domestic abuse — into combat only to find those problems exacerbated by the stresses of war. In other cases, they quickly discharged returning veterans with psychological or substance abuse problems, after which they committed homicides.

Perhaps no case has posed the question of military liability more bluntly than that of Lucas T. Borges, 25, a former private in the Marines whose victims are suing the United States government, maintaining that the military “had a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent Borges from harming others.” The government is trying to get the claim dismissed.

Mr. Borges immigrated from Brazil at 14 and joined the Marines four years later. After spending six months in Iraq at the beginning of the war, he “came back different, like he was out of his mind,” said his mother, Dina Borges, who runs a small cleaning business in Maryland.

Assigned on his return to a maintenance battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Private Borges developed a taste for the ether used to start large internal combustion engines in winter.

Mr. Borges did have a history of marijuana use, which he disclosed to the Marines when he enlisted, said Jeffrey Weber, a lawyer who represented the victims until recently.

But inhaling ether, which produces both a dreamy high and impairment, was new to him, and his sister, Gabriela, a 20-year-old George Washington University student, believes that he developed the habit to relieve the anxiety that he brought home from war.

The Marines, aware of Mr. Borges’s past drug use, also knew that he had developed an ether problem, but they never removed him from the job where he had ready access to his drug of choice, according to the lawsuit. They never offered him drug treatment, either, Mr. Borges’s own lawyer said in court.

Four months after he returned from Iraq, military officials moved to discharge Private Borges when he was caught inhaling ether in his car. They impounded the car, which contained several canisters of the government’s ether, and sent Mr. Borges, who threatened to kill himself, to the mental health ward of the base hospital.

“He was finally under the care of a psychiatrist, but they pulled him from that because he was a problem and they wanted to get rid of him,” Mr. Weber said. “They processed him out, handed him the keys to his car, and his supervisor said, ‘If you’re not careful, you’re going to kill somebody.’ ”

When Mr. Borges retrieved his 1992 Camaro, he discovered that the Marines had left their ether canisters inside — they did not have anywhere to store them, officials said at trial — and immediately got high. He then drove east down the westbound lane of a state highway, slamming headfirst into the victims’ car, killing 19-year-old Jamie Marie Lumsden, the daughter of a marine who served in Iraq, and seriously injuring four others.

Convicted of second-degree murder, Mr. Borges was sentenced to 24 to 32 years in prison.

Lost in Las Vegas

The Army has recently developed a course called “Battlemind Training,” intended to help soldiers make the psychological transition back into civilian society. “In combat, the enemy is the target,” the course material says. “Back home, there are no enemies.”

This can be a difficult lesson to learn. Many soldiers and marines find themselves at war with their spouses, their children, their fellow service members, the world at large and ultimately themselves when they come home.

“Based on my experience, most of these veterans feel just terrible that they’ve caused this senseless harm,” Dr. Shay said. “Most veterans don’t want to hurt other people.”

Matthew Sepi withdrew into himself on his return from Iraq.

A Navajo Indian who saw his hometown of Winslow, Ariz., as a dead end, Mr. Sepi joined the Army at 16, with a permission slip from his mother.

For a teenager without much life experience, the war in Iraq was mind-bending, and Mr. Sepi saw intense action. When his infantry company arrived in April 2003, it was charged with tackling resistant Republican Guard strongholds north of Baghdad.

“The war was supposedly over, except it wasn’t,” Mr. Sepi said. “I was a ground troop, with a grenade launcher attached to my M-16. Me and my buddies were the ones that assaulted the places. We went in the buildings and cleared the buildings. We shot and got shot at.”

After a year of combat, Mr. Sepi returned to Fort Carson, Colo., where life seemed dull and regimented. The soldiers did not discuss their war experiences or their postwar emotions. Instead, they partied, Mr. Sepi said, and the drinking got him and others in trouble. Arrested for under-age driving under the influence, he was ordered to complete drug and alcohol education and counseling. Shortly after that, he decided to leave the Army.

Feeling lost after his discharge “with a few little medals,” he ended up moving to Las Vegas, a city that he did not know, with the friend of a friend. Broke, Mr. Sepi settled in the Naked City, which is named for the showgirls who used to sunbathe topless there. After renting a roach-infested hole in the wall with an actual hole in the wall, he found jobs doing roadwork and making plastic juice bottles in a factory. Alone and lonely, he started feeling the effects of his combat experiences.

In Las Vegas, Mr. Sepi’s alcohol counselor took him under his wing, recognizing war-related PTSD in his extreme jumpiness, adrenaline rushes, nightmares and need to drink himself into unconsciousness.

The counselor directed him to seek specialized help from a Veterans Affairs hospital. Mr. Sepi said he called the V.A. and was told to report in person. But working 12-hour shifts at a bottling plant, he failed to do so.

In July 2005, when Mr. Sepi was arrested, he identified himself as an Iraq veteran. But, Detective Andersen said, “He didn’t act like a combat veteran. He acted like a scared kid.”

Soon afterward, Nancy Lemcke, Mr. Sepi’s public defender, visited him in jail. “I asked him about PTSD,” Ms. Lemcke said. “And he starts telling me about Iraq and all of a sudden, his eyes well up with tears, and he cries out: ‘We had the wrong house! We had the wrong house!’ And he’s practically hysterical.”

As part of an operation to break down the resistance in and around Balad, Mr. Sepi and his unit had been given a nightly list of targets for capture. Camouflaged, the American soldiers crept through towns after midnight, working their way down the lists, setting off C-4 plastic explosives at each address to stun the residents into submission.

“This particular night, it was December 2003, there was, I’d say, more than 100 targets,” Mr. Sepi said. “Each little team had a list. And at this one house, we blow the gate and find out that there’s this guy sitting in his car just inside that gate. We move in, and he, like, stumbles out of his car, and he’s on fire, and he’s, like, stumbling around in circles in his front yard. So we all kind of don’t know what to do, and he collapses, and we go inside the house and search it and find out it’s the wrong house.”

Although Mr. Sepi said that he felt bad at the time, he also knew that he had done nothing but follow orders and that the Army had paid the man’s family a settlement. He did not imagine that the image of the flaming, stumbling Iraqi civilian would linger like a specter in his psyche.

Listening to Mr. Sepi recount the story of a death that he regretted in Iraq while grappling with a death that he regretted in Las Vegas, his lawyer grew determined to get him help. “It was just so shocking, and his emotions were so raw, and he was so messed up,” Ms. Lemcke said.

An Unusual Legal Deal

She found compassion for him among the law enforcement officials handling the case. The investigation backed up Mr. Sepi’s story of self-defense, although it was never determined who fired first. It made an impression on the police that he was considerably outweighed — his 130 pounds against a 210-pound man and a 197-pound woman. And it helped Mr. Sepi that his victims were drifters, with no family members pressing for justice.

The police said that Kevin Ratcliff, 36, who was shot and wounded by Mr. Sepi, belonged to the Crips and was a convicted felon; Sharon Jackson, 47, who was killed, belonged to NC, the Naked City gang, and an autopsy found alcohol, cocaine and methamphetamines in her blood.

Buoyed by an outpouring of support from Mr. Sepi’s fellow soldiers and veterans’ advocates, Ms. Lemcke pressed the Department of Veterans Affairs to find treatment programs for Mr. Sepi. This allowed an unusual deal with the local district attorney’s office: in exchange for the successful completion of treatment for substance abuse and PTSD, the charges against Mr. Sepi would be dropped.

After about three months in jail, Mr. Sepi spent three months at a substance abuse program in Prescott, Ariz., in late 2005, where the graying veterans presented an object lesson: “I don’t want to be like that when I’m older,” he said to himself. In early 2006, he transferred to a PTSD treatment center run by the V.A. in Topeka, Kan., where he learned how to deal with anger, sadness and guilt, to manage the symptoms of his anxiety disorder and, it seems, to vanquish his nightmares.

“For some reason, my bad dreams went away,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.”

Free to start life over, Mr. Sepi stepped tentatively into adulthood. Settling in Phoenix, he enrolled in automotive school and got a job as a welder for a commercial bakery. Once in a while, he said, a loud noise still starts his heart racing and he breaks into a cold sweat, ready for action. But he knows now how to calm himself, he said, he no longer owns guns, and he is sober and sobered by what he has done.

“That night,” he said, of the hot summer night in Las Vegas when he was arrested for murder, “if I could erase it, I would. Killing is part of war, but back home ...”

Research was contributed by Alain Delaquérière, Amy Finnerty, Teddy Kider, Andrew Lehren, Renwick McLean, Jenny Nordberg and Margot Williams.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

There is a reason it was on clearance.

I picked up a new soda on clearance this morning. I thought, "It's 1/2 price - why not try it?"

It is the Airforce Nutrisoda, pomegrante + blackberry flavored. It is nasty. I just took a big swig and it tasted just like carbonated cough syrup. Yuck.

In answering my own question, the "why not?" is that the market forces have already spoken and deemed that the soda isn't worth buying.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

My new role model.


Last updated January 9, 2008 8:28 a.m. PT

Mom sells rule-breaking son's car


DES MOINES, Iowa -- Jane Hambleton has dubbed herself the "meanest mom on the planet."

After finding alcohol in her son's car, she decided to sell the car and share her 19-year-old's misdeed with everyone - by placing an ad in the local newspaper.

The ad reads: "OLDS 1999 Intrigue. Totally uncool parents who obviously don't love teenage son, selling his car. Only driven for three weeks before snoopy mom who needs to get a life found booze under front seat. $3,700/offer. Call meanest mom on the planet."

Hambleton has heard from people besides interested buyers since recently placing the ad in The Des Moines Register.

The 48-year-old from Fort Dodge says she has fielded more than 70 telephone calls from emergency room technicians, nurses, school counselors and even a Georgia man who wanted to congratulate her.

"The ad cost a fortune, but you know what? I'm telling people what happened here," Hambleton says. "I'm not just gonna put the car for resale when there's nothing wrong with it, except the driver made a dumb decision.

"It's overwhelming the number of calls I've gotten from people saying 'Thank you, it's nice to see a responsible parent.' So far there are no calls from anyone saying, 'You're really strict. You're real overboard, lady.'"

The only critic is her son, who Hambleton says is "very, very unhappy" with the ad and claims the alcohol was left by a passenger.

Hambleton believes her son but has decided mercy isn't the best policy in this case. She says she set two rules when she bought the car at Thanksgiving: No booze, and always keep it locked.

The car has been sold, but Hambleton says she will continue the ad for another week - just for the feedback.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Stupid Lyrics of the Day

I drove Marlo to work this morning. Before she got out of the car, she changed the radio station to something she wanted to listen to. As I drove away from her work, in that dazed stupor of a parent who has just rolled out of bed to chauffeur her child, the lyrics of the song came into focus.

Nice tune, but good gracious were the lyrics stupid!

I don't mean to pass judgment. I mean, I went to high school in the '80s where we had such gems as:

Hey Mickey, you're so fine.
You're so fine, you blow my mind
Hey Mickey - hey, hey, hey Mickey.

Yeah, it's a classic.

So, in the interests of posterity, I am posting the chorus to the ultra stupid song.

I can't waste time so give it a moment
I realize, nothing's broken
No need to worry 'bout everything I've done
Live every second like it was my last one
Don't look back, got a new direction
I loved you once, needed protection
You're still a part of everything I do
You're on my heart just like a tattoo

(Just like a tattoo, I'll always have you
I'll always have you, I'll always have you)

Perhaps one day an anthropologist will digitally unearth this blog and find these lyrics to be the Rosetta Stone of what is wrong with our society today.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man

I had surgery about three weeks ago, the day after my last final exam. It was to repair some scar tissue and the remnants of a seroma from an abdominal surgery I had a year and a half ago.

I've been getting better and better since that time - going from being so doped up on narcotics that I was hallucinating and being unable to get in and out of bed without assistance to being able to move around freely without much pain medication (usually only at night to help me sleep). God bless Anjali and Jeff who let me stay at their house and cared for me for five days following my surgery. I love them.

On Thursday last, I had a follow up appointment with my surgeon and he had to drain 50 ccs from a seroma (a fluid-filled pocket) from my lower right abdomen. I have been wearing a compression garment to help manage the seroma and swelling, with added foam padding to make it tighter (except when I got out in public). Yesterday evening, I noticed that I was feeling more and more swollen.

By the end of today (like now), I'm pretty sure I've developed another seroma on my upper left abdomen. Between the swelling and being padded up with foam, I feel like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

Even though I am currently whining, I am still happy that I went ahead with the surgery. All and all, it is 100% better than it was before. These little ups and downs are to be expected and I'm sure will resolve in due course.


I was talking to my sister Shawna who read this post.

Her feedback was, "I didn't find this post funny. It was rather bland."

I said, "It's not witty Shawna. It is just an update of how I'm feeling. I thought it was witty to use the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man as an analogy instead of saying that I feel like a bloated moo-cow."

She said, "Maybe you can update the blog with that because I actually find the moo-cow rather funny."

I wish I did. :( It's not so funny when you're the one experiencing it.

You'll shoot your eye out, kid!

A while back, there was a movie titled, "A Christmas Story." In the film, this little kid was warned by adults over and over again, "You'll shoot your eye out" as he wanted to try different things. It was one of the recurring humorous bits in the movie.

Of course, the reason it was funny is that we were all warned by our parents about the dire consequences of various actions, all of which never really came to pass. An example: "Stop it or your face will freeze like that."

As a teenager, one of the more frustrating admonitions was constantly being told, "Turn down the music or you'll go deaf."

Today, Marlo and I are both working on homework (I'll be returning to mine as soon as I'm done writing this post.) She's in her room and I'm in the living room. We're both listening to music on our computers. Mine, of course, is really low. So, we have the following conversation:

Me: "Marlo, is that your music or from upstairs?"

Marlo: "It's mine."

Me: "Turn it down; it's too loud.


Me: "Turn it down."

Marlo: "I did!"

Me: "Turn it down more."


Me: "More, please!"


Me: "Turn it down more, or you'll damage your hearing."

Sigh. With only one year to go, I've officially entered the ranks of a parent of a teen.

Rome Results

Grades for the Rome Program were finally posted. I received:

4.0 in Italian
3.8 in Comparative Legal Culture
3.8 in European Law and Society: The rights of the individual.

I'm glad I did so well.

On the one hand, it is really good that these grades will show up on my transcript. On the other, it is bad because, like my Amsterdam results, these grades do not factor into my overall law school GPA as they were undergraduate level classes. (Credits count towards my degree, but the grades do not factor into my GPA).

I'm happy, but there is a slight "bummer" factor here.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Remember the Hat 'n Boots?

There has to be a better way. I came across the article below describing how Seattle's landmark committee is considering designating the Ballard Denny's as a historical landmark (Apparently due to its architecture, not the food). After spending the summer in Europe, I cannot deny that unusual buildings, architecture, history, etc. should be preserved.

However, while I was reading this article, the only thing that I kept thinking about was the decline of the Hats 'n Boots in Georgetown. Recently, the pair of kitchy loos have been moved to a Georgetown park where they are undergoing renovation. I can't help feeling that this would have been a much better move 15 years ago before the Hat 'n Boots property sat vacant, the structures declined in condition, and were ongoing targets of vandalism.

When something's historical past is not tied to its geography, such as the architecture of the Ballard Denny's, then, if feasible, it should be moved to another location where it can be appreciated and protected without tying the hands of the property owner who unwittingly purchased the property before its designation as a landmark.



Landmarks board: Former Ballard Denny's worth saving

If affirmed, status would block planned demolition

Thursday, January 3, 2008
Last updated 9:51 a.m. PT


Old Ballard Denny's


The restaurant at 15th Avenue Northwest and Northwest Market Street in Ballard was built in 1964 as Manning's Cafeteria. An example of "Googie" architecture, it is shown here the day after reopening as a Denny's in 1984.

The boarded-up former Denny's Restaurant in Ballard deserves protection as a Seattle landmark, or at least serious consideration for landmark status, a city board decided on Wednesday.

The owners of the building, at the corner of 15th Avenue Northwest and Northwest Market Street, have a deal to sell it to developer Rhapsody Partners, which has applied to replace it with an eight-story building that would contain retail space and 261 homes. The owners applied for landmark review only to head off a possible nomination down the road.

But the Landmark Preservation Board voted 8-1 Wednesday to move forward with the nomination and, if the board affirms the decision at its Feb. 6 meeting, demolition would be blocked.

Some board members cast their votes seeking more information about the building, but most seemed more decisive.

"There's absolutely no doubt in my mind (that) it's a local visual landmark," board member Stephen Lee said. "This is such a profound sculptural element in our community."

Larry Johnson, the Seattle architect who prepared the nomination for the building's owners, said it is an example of "Googie" style architecture, which got its name from a Sunset Strip coffee shop designed in 1949, and was notable for flamboyant elements designed to attract passing motorists. The building started in 1964 as Manning's Cafeteria and then was a Denny's from 1984 until September.

Johnson argued that many of the building's original Googie elements were lost and, even if the building were in its original condition, it would not be distinctive enough to warrant landmark designation.

Louie Richmond, a spokesman for Rhapsody Partners, was more blunt in his assessment of the building.

"I find it very, very depressing," he said outside of the meeting. "I find it very, very ugly."

But other architects and Seattle residents say the building is an important work by a noted architect, Clarence Mayhew, a distinctive part of the community and a part of the history of Manning's Cafeteria, which expanded to more than 40 franchises on the West Coast before folding in the 1970s.

"It was very much about pop culture, but that doesn't mean it's not significant," said Eugenia Woo, a board member of Documentation and Conservation of the Modern Movement in Western Washington, which supported the landmark nomination.

The restaurant "is one of the best of perhaps a half-dozen Googie survivors in the region," Alan Michelson, the head of the Architecture and Urban Planning Library at the University of Washington, wrote in a report to the board. "It remains an important artifact of the automobile era in the U.S., and its vibrant, space-age forms crystallized the era's enthusiasm and faith in commerce and technology."

After the meeting, a representative of the building's owners expressed confidence the board would ultimately decide against making it a landmark.

"This is an eyesore and a decrepit building that should be torn down and replaced," said Marc Nemirow, a senior executive with the Benaroya Co., which leads the partnership that owns the building.

He declined to speculate on what the owners might do if the board affirms the nomination, saying: "We don't have a Plan B."


The Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board is scheduled to make a final decision Feb. 6 on the landmark designation of the former Denny's and Manning's Cafeteria in Ballard. The meeting starts at 3:30 p.m. in Room 4060 of Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 Fifth Ave. Details: seattle.gov/neighborhoods/preservation.

Velveeta and Wonder Bread

I am posting this news article as a follow up to my post titled, "Free Advice to Stupid Criminals."

I'd really love to see some medical literature to support the notion that a man would grope an unwilling woman as a result of a "black out" caused by a change in seizure medication. Until then, I'm just not buying it. I doubt a jury of 12 will either.

I guess that's the problem: it is really hard to come up with a realistic defense when your client is a full-blown idiot - a lot like trying to make a gourmet sandwich out of Velveeta and Wonder Bread.


Defense attorney: United flight fondling suspect 'blacked out'

Last updated January 3, 2008 9:40 a.m. PT


PITTSBURGH -- The lawyer for a Seattle-area man says his client doesn't remember groping a female passenger aboard a United Airlines flight.

The Pittsburgh lawyer, Steve Townsend, says 46-year-old Michael Lamar Holland recently changed seizure medications and has a history of blackouts.

Holland has been charged by federal air marshals with abusive sexual contact for the episode Sunday night on United Flight 917.

Air marshals say Holland groped the 39-year-old woman shortly after the flight took off for Seattle from Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.. The plane was bound for Seattle from Dulles International Airport but was diverted to Pittsburgh as a result.

Holland is scheduled to appear Monday in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh.

Say something new

It is possible/probable that human beings' capacity for original thought stems from our capacity to actually say something new, something original, something that has never been said before.

Last summer, I did a post about some art in a church in Amsterdam dating back 500 years that captured some of the cliches that we say today (See, "Your cliches really are tired.") and illustrates the level to which human beings recycle the same thoughts.

My friend, Anne, teaches a course that is based on the premise that to alter your life, you've got to say something new. Perhaps everyone's first New Years' resolution should be avoiding saying anything on the following list.

"Perfect storm" of cliches make bad English list

Mon Dec 31, 2007 10:36am EST

By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A "surge" of overused words and phrases formed a "perfect storm" of "post-9/11" cliches in 2007, according to a U.S. university's annual list of words and phrases that deserve to be banned.

Choosing from among 2,000 submissions, the public relations department at Michigan's Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie targeted 19 affronts to the English language in its well-known jab at the worlds of media, sports, advertising and politics.

The contributors gave first prize to the phrase "a perfect storm," saying it was numbingly applied to virtually any notable coincidence.

"Webinar" made the list as a tiresome non-word combining Web and seminar that a contributor said "belongs in the same school of non-thought that brought us e-anything and i-anything."

Similarly, the list-makers complained about the absurd comparisons commonly phrased "x is the new y," as in "(age) 70 is the new 50" or "chocolate is the new sex." "Fallacy is the new truth," commented one contributor.

Some words and phrases sagged under the weight of overuse, contributors said, citing the application of "organic" to everything from computer software to dog food.

In the same vein, decorators offering to add "pop" with a touch of color need new words, the list-makers said.

Such phrases as "post 9/11" and "surge" have also outlived their usefulness, they said. Surge emerged in reference to adding U.S. troops in Iraq but has come to explain the expansion of anything.

Other contributors took umbrage at the phrase to "give back" as applied to charitable gestures, usually by celebrities.

"The notion has arisen that as one's life progresses, one accumulates a sort of deficit balance with society which must be neutralized by charitable works or financial outlays," one said.

"Back in the day" raised hackles for being applied to recent trends rather than historical events.

Other teenage linguistic indiscretions such as the often meaningless use of "random" and "sweet" raised the ire of list-makers, as did the pointless "it is what it is."

Reporters were chided for skipping out on detail by describing an event or parting as "emotional," and for misapplying "decimate" when they mean annihilate or destroy, not the word's true meaning of to lose a fraction.

Sports announcers were urged to drop "throw under the bus" when assigning blame to a player. "It is a call for the media to start issuing a thesaurus to everyone in front of a camera," a contributor said.

And finally, any self-respecting writer would groan at being labeled a "wordsmith" who engages in "wordsmithing," the list-makers said.

Free Advice to Stupid Criminals

I came across a news article about an airplane flight was diverted to Pittsburgh after a Seattle man was caught groping a woman on the plane. While there is a plethora of high level advice that should be given to this man in therapy while he serves his prison term, I offer this basic advice that seems to have skipped his notice.

An airplane is an enclosed space. The doors close and lock. Once it is airborne, your moveable space is greatly reduced. You cannot exit this space in flight. Not only that, but even if this space is not occupied by U.S. Marshals, as your flight was, it most probably will have at least 5 hulking men willing to come to the rescue of the woman you are groping. These men will grab you, push you to the filthy airline floor and sit on you for the next several hours, if necessary.

Is feeling up an unwilling woman really worth all that will ensue? You should think about that because committing this crime on an airplane virtually ensures that you'll be caught.

United flight diverted to Pittsburgh due to alleged groping

The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — A Seattle-area man has been charged by federal air marshals with groping a female passenger aboard a United Airlines flight that was diverted to Pittsburgh as a result of the alleged incident.

Michael L. Holland, 46, made his initial appearance before a magistrate on Monday on a charge of abusive sexual contact, according to Ted Hresko, special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh air marshals' office.

Holland had been chatting with the woman Sunday on United Flight 917, which was bound for Seattle from Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., Hresko said.

""The next thing you know, he's groping her," said Hresko. "The flight attendants asked our (air marshals) to get involved."

Holland was handcuffed by air marshals and taken to an empty seat in another part of the plane, Hresko said. The pilot opted to divert the flight to Pittsburgh so Holland could be removed, said Hresko.

United Airlines officials did not immediately return a call for comment.

The flight left Dulles carrying 182 passengers at 6:08 p.m. and landed in Pittsburgh about an hour later. Pittsburgh airport officials said the flight continued on to Seattle at 9:35 p.m.

It was not immediately clear if Holland had an attorney, or whether he would remain in custody in Pittsburgh. He was held overnight in the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh prior to appearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Amy Reynolds Hay.

Holland did not appear to be intoxicated when he was taken into custody Sunday night, Hresko said.

"There was no alcohol on his breath, and when he was interviewed he said he hadn't had a drink for five years," Hresko said. "We have no reason to believe that he was drunk or on any kind of narcotic."

Abusive sexual contact is a federal misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and $1,000 fine, Hresko said.